Dowbrigade’s Guide to Ecuadorian Politics

The tenuous
between political and social sectors here in Ecuador,
for the purpose of presenting a civilized facade for the duration of
the Miss Universe pageant (next Tuesday, June 1) is in danger
of collapse as rumors swirl of immanent dictatorship, massive resignation
or firing of the government, the possibility of a military coup or
the forceful removal of the President by the Congress. The government
of Col. Lucio
Guiterrez is hanging by a thread. In a way, it is refreshing that things
are getting back to normal in Ecuador – the "truce" was unnatural.

Let us try to recap the labyrinthine situation in a brief summary.  The
current President, Lucio, was an Army Colonel who participated in an
abortive coup four years ago,after which he served some time, quit the
Army, entered politics and got elected, without any discernable support
in the Congress, the established political parties or the traditional
centers of economic and social power.  He campaigned on an anti-corruption
platform and won largely because of the support of the millions of neglected
Indians in the Andean highlands.

Now, 16 months into his 4 year term he has alienated just about every
group in the country, the national indigenous associations (the aforementioned
Indians) are claiming he betrayed them, calling for his ouster, and have
declared June 17 the D-Day for a national "Indian Uprising". His anti-corruption
campaign is in tatters, as virtually every original member of his government,
largely inexperienced Army colonels like himself, have resigned in disgrace.

The first to go was Patricio Ortiz, his first Minister of Social Welfare,
who was caught diverting humanitarian aid to victims of a volcanic eruption
into his private Swiss bank account. A few months later Carlos Arboleda,
Minister of Energy and Mines, resigned for "personal reasons" which,
according to knowledgeable sources were related to kickbacks for the
awarding of oil and gold contracts to foreign companies.

Ortiz was replaced by Patricio
, the "strongman" of the regime,
who everybody expected to stick it out til the bitter end. He was fired
last week after the US State Department canceled his visa to enter the
US, along with his wife’s – she was refused entry at the Miami Airport
and put on the first flight back to Ecuador. Although the US government
refuses to divulge the reasons behind the visa
they may
have something to do with his naming a known drug dealer to head the
Ecuador version of the DEA. Acosta has been replaced by Antonio Vargas,
an ethnic Indian and ex-head of the largest indigenous organization in
the country.  The current head of that organization, and most of
the Indians in the country, accuse Vargas of "selling out" and Lucio
of trying to divide the Indian power movement, which has called for his
resignation and threatened a national "Indian Uprising" for next month.

Meanwhile, Lucio has appointed his brother as the head of the government’s
Congressional block, and sent his cousin, a legislator, to attack the
real political power in the country, ex-President Leon Febres Cordero.
LFC, as he is known, has transcended mere presidential levels of power
and has been running the country from the shadows for years.  According
to Lucio, he is currently "knocking on doors" and offering the presidency
to a variety of possible puppets in anticipation of taking Lucio down.

Poor Ecuador! The country has had 10 presidents in the last 10 years,
including the first and only woman to occupy the position.  She
lasted less than 24 hours. When Ecuador took the desperate and radical
measure of trashing their national currency, the Sucre, and adopting
the US greenback as the coin of the realm, they thought it would draw
a flood of international investment capital attracted by, we suppose,
not having to deal with complicated currency exchanges.

But what prudent investor is going to sink his capital in a country
where Presidents reign for less time than Miss Universe and where the
rules of the game can change faster than the lineup at the local movie

The saving grace of Ecuadorian politics, and the factor that makes it
a fascinating panorama for up-close observation by a political junkie
like the Dowbrigade, is the essentially non-violent nature of the Ecuadorian
people. Throughout all of these uprisings, coups, national strikes and
internecine warfare, people are almost never actually hurt or killed.  The
resign in disgrace, go into exile, sometimes spend a little time in
prison.  But in terms of institutionalized violence, Ecuador can’t
hold a candle to its neighbor Colombia, Israel or even the United States

In fact, it would all be great public theater if not for the fact that
millions of honest, regular people are being held down and locked into
poverty and underdevelopment by a handful of crooked politicians and
endemic political instability. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight.

article from El
(in Spanish)


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